Why this poet says there is no ‘single story spun on a single tongue’

JUDY WOODRUFF: In our national conversations
on politics, race or even entertainment, we often group people together. But when we use shorthand, like African-American
voters, we often overlook the diverse viewpoints of any given demographic. Erica Dawson is a poet and professor. And, in her Humble Opinion, it’s time to recognize
the individual, not just the group. ERICA DAWSON, Author, “When Rap Spoke Straight
to God”: Last fall, I was incredibly fortunate to travel all over the country to promote
my new book, “When Rap Spoke Straight to God.” I know I love few things more than meeting
new people, but I was surprised when, almost after every reading, I was met with the same
question again and again. It struck me. So I did what poets do. I wrote a poem to try to understand. So I did this reading the other day, right? After, in the Q&A, somebody raised their hand
and asked, what is it like for you to be tasked with the job of speaking for the black experience? As if there’s only one. Like, somewhere, there’s a single stack of
words or a single story spun on a single tongue. The other night, somebody asked, is black
poetry back? Like, we penned one verse, and it got lost
at sea or slipped inside a big old crack in the big old earth, and then re-returned when
everything was chaos. Like, here we are. Like, oh, hey, it’s us, and we’re feeling
concerned and all political. We never went away. We don’t only deserve the stage in tumultuous
times. We aren’t just rage. We’re not a fad, a torch, a blaze of loud
and proud to save your ways of the world, a guide to help you gauge what’s right or
wrong. Look at the page. I love Lucille Clifton’s self-praising sway
and ode to my hips. I love Phillis Wheatley’s “Hymn to Evening.” Langston Hughes does more than sing America. He hears the dim, sweet song of the rain. Let it pour and flow like currents. Teach that in classrooms, too. Learn every verse. Lift every voice off of the flat white books. Get up. Rehearse. Recite. Remember every phrase. Black poets aren’t a passing phase. Ask me about the part where I say the ocean
always finds it way. JUDY WOODRUFF: Poet Erica Dawson.

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